Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Pignoli Cookies

Christmas in Assisi
A memorable Christmas, Roman's first, in Assisi, Italy
The closest I came to getting a tree this year was strolling through the Christmas tree market on Greenwich Street, deeply inhaling the wonderful pine scent.  Well, there was a batch of tree-shaped sugar cookies I made for our neighbors at the bar downstairs.  I saved half the batch for us.

Sugar Cookie

We're going away for Christmas so it didn't feel right to leave a live tree alone for the holidays.  I figured I could pack some treats into the car easier than a whole tree.  So I made some pignoli cookies, a holiday cookie from Italy. Pine nuts. Yes, they come from pine trees and you actually get a hint of that wonderful pine scent when you bite into them.

Pignoli Cookie

I lived in Rome for two years and never ate pignoli cookies.  I was too busy devouring ricotta tarts from my favorite neighborhood pastry shop to make time for with these sweet almondy-gems.  They seem more popular in  Italian-American homes and pastry shops. That's probably where I first fell in love with them, years ago at Fortunato Brothers in Brooklyn.  But really, what cookie isn't better homemade?

Love 'n' Bake

The week before Christmas is notoriously hectic.  Last minute gifts to buy, cards to send, packing to do. I try to avoid the chaos and carve out some time to bake.  Here is a recipe that involves very little time and effort, and results in a cookie packed full of flavor, so it's a win-win.  That is, if you're not afraid to let things get a little sticky this close to Christmas.

Pignoli Cookies
From the Love'N Bake can
Makes two dozen

The addition of orange zest really brightens up these sweet, nutty cookies.  I love the way the almond and pine nut flavors mingle.  Great with a strong espresso or a cup of rooibos tea.

10 oz can of Almond Paste (ingredients: almonds, sugar, water, natural flavor)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of one orange
3 egg whites *see note below
1 cup pignoli nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix the almond paste, sugar, salt, orange zest with the egg whites using an electric mixer on low speed.  (*Note: it's best to use large eggs, not extra large, and to add the egg whites one at a time.  Do not let the mixture get too runny- it should be more like a paste.)  This will create a smooth paste.
Scoop out a heaping teaspoon full with your fingers, coat one side evenly with pignoli, then drop onto the baking sheet.  (This is the sticky part. Work quickly and try to minimize how many fingers you use to touch the batter.)
Bake at least 10-12 minutes (Mine took about 14 minutes, but depending on your oven, watch to make sure you don't over bake.)
Let the cookies cool completely on the baking sheet, then carefully peel them off the parchment paper.  Store in a covered container.


  1. I've had a cookie like this before on one occasion in Italy baked by a friend, it was lovely! When i got back home i tried to replicate it but it didn't tast near enough the same! I'm going to be trying this recipe asap, although i don't think love'n'bake almond paste will be available in London when i get home. I suppose i could make my own or find a good substitute.

  2. Did you find the almond paste at your local grocery? These are gluten free and I bet I could easily make them vegan so I can share them with my vegan sister!

  3. Karen, I bet you'll find a type of almond paste in London. Products are so global now. Enjoy and Happy Christmas!

    Jen- I bought the almond paste at Whole Foods. I'm not sure how these cookies would do without eggs, but using the almond paste and pine nuts in another version would certainly be delicious!

  4. Too funny, as you know i just blogged on these too. Were yours crunchy or squishy in the center? I love pine nuts as well, my favorite memory is sitting on the back porch of my friend's house in Italy, eating pine nuts straight from the pine cone--off the tree in their backyard!

    Happy holidays!

  5. These cookies are popular in Lebanon as well, since we have a lot of pine trees and eat so much pine nuts, my favorites! I was planning on making them soon. Great recipe and I love the orange zest idea.

  6. Looks like there was no need to buy them in Italy, since you make such lovely pinoli (I love the Americanized version of all things Italian...pignoli, biscotti and panini in the singular form, bruschetta pronounced brushetta. And yes, Italians do the same to American food!) cookies yourself. And you are so right, homemade is always is better! Have a wonderful Christmas back home.

  7. One of my favorite cookies! You have inspired me to make them (too bad pine nuts are so darn expensive where I live :( ) Merry Christmas to you!

  8. All cookies are better homemade, you're so right. I love the flavor of pine nuts and the combination with the almond paste must be wonderful.

    Merry Christmas Nicole! All the best to you and your family!

  9. I just love pignoli cookies, and yours look grand.
    Merry Christmas.

  10. I've been debating whether to make these or the Italian sesame cookies for my mom for christmas, since they are two of her favorites. I think you've definitely steered me in the right direction with this recipe!

    Have a happy holidays, Nicole!

  11. Beautiful posting of your cookies. Just the perfect cookie to bake up for enjoying with hot tea or milky coffee when you need to take a break from the hustle and bustle.

  12. Thanks for trying the recipe Nicole. Glad it brought you back to Fortunato's, still going strong in Greenpoint. I'm thinking of making some last minute almond horns, same idea only whoile eggs are used and the cookies are sprinkled with sliced almonds, less costly than pine nuts right now.

  13. I've enjoyed these cookies before - your recipe sounds lovely and fresh with the orange. Happy Holidays!

  14. Sara- strange, that's the one post of yours that I somehow missed!! Mine were soft in the center.

    Taste of Beirut- the orange zest really makes these cookies great, I think!

    Nuts about food- You are forgiving! I can't stand it when I hear Americans say brushetta, and I always cringe :(

    Magda and Michele, Happy Holidays to you both!!

    Joane- Sesame cookies? I'm intrigued! Let me know if you find a recipe!

    Teresa- I brought a tin full of these pignoli cookies to my dad's and we've been enjoying them as afternoon snack!

    Priscilla, thanks for your comment, are you from the area? I love Greenpoint, we used to live there 13 years ago. Fortunato's is an institution.

    Tracy- pine nuts are always expensive. But luckily you only need a cup for this recipe. (special occasion!)

    Lynda-Thanks, and same to you!

  15. these cookies are looking fabulous
    happy holidays


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